An active recovery from lockdowns

The Youth Sport Trust shares ideas on how schools can rebuild children’s activity levels and their love for PE following lockdowns

Over the last two years, the pandemic, lockdowns and school closures have taken their toll on children. Existing inequalities have widened, and physical activity levels, attainment and wellbeing have suffered.

Sport England’s Children and Active Lives survey recently showed that only 44.6 per cent of young people (3.2 million) average at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – the recommended amount set by the Chief Medical Officer. And a government-commissioned research report has also revealed that 56 per cent of primary and 37 per cent of secondary schools said they had reduced hours for certain subjects, “particularly music and PE” over the course of the 2021/22 academic year.

Improving wellbeing

Physically active children are happier and achieve higher levels of academic attainment than their less physically active peers. PE and sport are not a ‘nice to have’ in children’s lives, and today more than ever they are essential to their physical, social and emotional development.
Working across the UK in the last academic year, our programmes and training used the power of sport and play to support more than 250,000 young people and train more than 10,000 educators to lead good quality, inclusive sport and Physical Education. In our latest Impact Report, the young people we supported reported feeling happier and more confident as a result. Communication skills, leadership and teamworking improved, while the positive experience they had inspired them to become more active.
We passionately believe that this offers just a snapshot of what can and should be possible for all young people if, at a national level, we are able to unlock the power of play and sport to level up opportunities and support the recovery of every child.
The findings of our agenda-setting Class of 2035 research last year set out how PE and sport could evolve to help tackle this, while our Active Recovery research highlighted the positive impact already being seen in schools which have prioritised getting young people active as they returned to the classroom.

Inspiring change

Building on the ambitions set out in the Levelling Up White Paper and ahead of the Government publishing a new School Sport and Activity Action Plan this year, we hope to galvanise and inspire changemakers to harness the power of play and transform attitudes, improve practice and drive policy change.
Our work will be driven by three objectives.
The first is to build back healthier, happier and more resilient young people and level the playing field for those most disadvantaged.
The second is to help young people balance the demands of the digital age through a focus on play and sport delivering fun, friendship and human connections.

The third objective is to transform society’s perceptions and attitudes towards the importance of physical literacy, play and sport in young people’s education and development.

Active Recovery Curriculums

A key part of achieving this is the idea of Active Recovery Curriculums, which aim to see children spend more time learning outdoors, more active approaches to teaching and learning in lessons other than PE, and an increased focus on learning about health and lifestyle.  
An independent survey of 470 young people across 10 schools led by spear The Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research at Canterbury Christchurch University, revealed that since taking part in an Active Recovery Curriculum 75 per cent of teachers reported improvements in academic progress, and three quarters (74 per cent) of pupils said being active at school helps them learn.
The survey also showed that 71 per cent of pupils increased their physical activity levels and 68 per cent of pupils reported an improvement in their resilience.
What’s more, 86 per cent of teachers felt that children’s mental wellbeing had improved.
The group of schools which took part in introducing Active Recovery Curriculums and which were part of the in-depth study now plan to maintain them into future academic years.
Sian Hall, who is a headteacher at St Breock Primary School in Cornwall, said on using the Active Recovery Curriculum Principles:  
“When children returned to school in March 2021, their stamina for schoolwork had significantly reduced. Their physical fitness had also declined. After introducing an Active Recovery Curriculum, we saw increased engagement, stamina, progress and a more resilient attitude towards their learning.  

“The introduction of simple active strategies had a huge impact on our positive return to school, and I would highly encourage other schools to look at how they could increase activity throughout the day.”
The results speak for themselves but by doing the below, schools can play a part in improving children’s overall wellbeing. By adding more physical activity across the school day, it will not only boost physical fitness, stamina and understanding of overall health but it can also improve children’s readiness for learning, concentration and support academic catch up.

Tips for rebuilding activity

Here are some top tips on how schools can rebuild children’s activity levels.
Schools can use sport in cross curricular learning to set challenges and encourage ‘active’ problem solving. Can you get children to climb a ‘ladder’ as they go up and down their timetables or the alphabet? Take a look at ideas from Teach Active.
Schools should also listen to young people and what matters to them. Our Class of 2035 report has shown that if young people are empowered to lead and influence PE and sport’s delivery, it could not only drive-up participation and improve their health but also contribute to social mobility and foster a greater sense of belonging.
It is a good idea to focus on wellbeing and development priorities in PE lessons. Young people’s awareness of the benefits they should get from PE and physical activity are in decline. Compared with six years ago, fewer children agree that PE and physical activity helps them to be healthy (down from 78 per cent to 72 per cent), be fit (down from 80 per cent to 71 per cent) or improve their social and team building skills (down from 43 per cent to 34 per cent). It is important to promote a more explicit recognition of the positive outcomes young people gain from sport among educators, parents, and policymakers. Focusing on enjoyment is most effective in motivating pupils and inspiring them to pursue healthy habits and new hobbies.
Schools should also offer more extracurricular activities and opportunities to try new activities. Afterschool clubs are a great opportunity for encouraging children to be more active and to have the opportunity to try new sports.
Schools should also find opportunities to be active every day. This could be a ‘brain break’ in-between a period of intense learning where children are up out of their seats and moving on the spot to increase their heart rate, or it could be taking lessons outdoors, so you have space for children to move around and bring the theory to life. A whole school approach and cohesion between teachers has been key to successful Active Recovery Curriculums.
Schools can access more ideas on how to implement Active Recovery Curriculums and more information on the benefits here. There is also a hub of free ideas and resources for getting children active before, during and after the school day through a Sport England National Lottery funded ‘Active Recovery Hub’ which sits on the School Games website.